UCC, a boon or bane?

The following article was first published in the English daily newspaper Telangana Today on 8 December 2023 (https://telanganatoday.com/opinion-ucc-a-boon-or-bane)

UCC, a boon or bane?

By Sushiila Ttiwari, MD, 7Qube Biz Solutions

& D Samarender Reddy, Director, 7Qube Biz Solutions

Hindu personal laws were codified in the 1950s, while other religious communities continue to follow their respective personal laws. The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is a proposal to replace the personal laws based on the scriptures and customs of each major religious community in India with a common set governing every citizen. The idea of UCC was enshrined in the Indian Constitution, with Article 44 directing the state to strive towards its implementation.

The issue of UCC emerged into India’s political discourse recently mainly because many Muslim women, affected adversely by personal laws, have begun knocking on the doors of the Supreme Court to uphold their fundamental rights to equality and liberty in keeping with constitutional provisions.

Although the UCC has not been implemented yet, the ongoing debate surrounding it provides an opportunity for us to examine its advantages and disadvantages, helping us gain a deeper understanding of the subject.

Need for UCC

Equal status to all citizens: UCC aims to provide a common set of laws for all citizens, irrespective of their religion, which would ensure that irrespective of religious affiliation, all are subject to the same laws. It can help eliminate gender-based discrimination in personal laws, especially those related to marriage, divorce and inheritance. A UCC might promote gender parity, potentially empowering women economically. This could lead to increased participation of women in the workforce, which could have a positive impact on the economy. The younger generation in India is more inclined towards modernity and secularism. UCC will help accommodate their aspirations. Plus, it would reflect India’s commitment to modernising and aligning its legal system with international standards.

Social harmony, national integration: It would help in fostering a more cohesive and inclusive society by reducing inter-community conflicts related to personal laws. UCC can help promote national integration by eliminating the legal pluralism currently seen in personal laws. It would ensure that all citizens are subject to the same laws. This could be seen as a step towards a more egalitarian society.

Legal clarity: It would simplify the legal framework by providing a common set of laws for matters like marriage, divorce, inheritance, and property. The issue of reforming existing personal laws has been a contentious one, with different religious communities having different views on the matter. UCC can bypass this issue by providing a common set of laws for all citizens. It could simplify legal processes, making them more understandable and accessible to the general population. This could lead to quicker dispute resolution and legal processes, reducing the burden on the judicial system.

Ease of doing business: Greater legal clarity and uniformity would be possible, making it easier to do business and resolve disputes. This could potentially improve the ease of doing business in India, which could attract more investment.

Savings and investment: Uniformity in inheritance laws could encourage individuals to save and invest more, as they would have confidence in a standardised legal framework for property and assets. This could boost capital formation and economic growth. A UCC might reduce inter-community conflicts related to personal laws, which could enhance social stability and, in turn, provide a more conducive environment for economic development.

Legal Cases

In 2017, the Supreme Court declared instant triple talaq unconstitutional and asked the government to bring in a law on UCC.

In 2018, the Supreme Court allowed women of all ages to enter Sabarimala temple, which was previously restricted to women between the ages of 10 and 50 years. The court observed that “the right to practice religion does not mean the right to discriminate against women”.

Opposition to UCC

In 2016, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) opposed the implementation of UCC, stating that it would violate their fundamental rights. In 2020, several Muslim organisations opposed its implementation, stating it would lead to cultural homogenisation and undermine religious freedom.

It is argued by some that India is a diverse country with a rich tapestry of cultures and religions. Hence, they feel that imposing a single set of laws could undermine this diversity and infringe upon religious and cultural practices. Besides, personal laws are considered a matter of faith and belief by many people. Implementing UCC could be seen by them as interference by the state in personal matters.

However, these arguments against the UCC are specious. It is from these very religious minorities from which some are now opposing the UCC, often there have been instances where the high courts and even the Supreme Court have been approached by people from these groups who have sought the courts’ intervention and redressal when they felt aggrieved by the implementation of one or more personal laws in their case. So, not only is there no consensus within such groups on the desirability of personal laws, but also they actively seek the state’s intervention in some of their legal matters.

Challenges in Implementation

Political considerations: Opposition or support from different political groups could impact the pace and scope of its implementation. Hence, a strategic approach to taking parties into confidence is needed.

Challenges and resistance: The implementation could face resistance from various religious and cultural groups who might view it as a threat to their traditions. Balancing the need for uniformity with respect for diversity is a challenge.

Cultural sensitivity: Different religious and cultural practices are deeply rooted in Indian society, and any changes to personal laws should be carefully considered to respect these traditions.

Inopportune time: India’s Law Commission said in its 2018 report that the UCC is neither essential nor desirable at this time, due to various social, political, and economic factors.

Implementing a UCC is a complex task in a diverse and pluralistic country like India. Resistance and legal challenges could create uncertainty. However, thorough planning from the grassroots would be the best way forward to see its results in the long run.

D. Samarender Reddy

Holds degrees in Medicine (MBBS) and Economics (MA, The Johns Hopkins University). Certified programmer. An avid reader. Worked in various capacities as a medical writer, copywriter, copyeditor, software programmer, newspaper columnist, and content writer.

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